NASA declared at a press conference today that its Opportunity rover is officially no longer functional, marking the end of an era while celebrating the wildly successful Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission. The golf-cart-sized rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning airbags.
The six-wheeled robot last contacted Earth in June previous year, but after a global dust storm hit, it went quiet. There was no response from space, only silence.
Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and covered 28 miles (45 kilometers) on the planet, securing its place in history after lasting well beyond its expected 90-day mission.
NASA's Opportunity, the Mars rover that was built to operate for just three months but kept going and going, was pronounced dead Wednesday, 15 years after it landed on the red planet.
After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineersat NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity on Tuesday, to no avail.
The legacy is being carried on by NASA's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, which arrived on Mars in 2012 and found even stronger evidence that the Red Planet could have been habitable billions of years ago.
So while today may be an official goodbye to Opportunity, it lives on in its legacy that informs our exploration of Mars every day.
Opportunity was first sent to collect data about the planet Mars alongside fellow rover Spirit, which concluded its mission in 2010. By February 6, NASA reported that more than 835 recovery commands had been sent to the rover over a span of frequencies, including those outside its normal communications range.
The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy.
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The solar-powered rover last communicated with Earth on June 10, 2018, as a "planet-wide dust storm was blanketing the Red Planet". That included finding evidence of past water on Mars that had a neutral pH, rather than acidic.
"Don't be sad it's over, be proud it taught us so much", former president Barack Obama tweeted later on Thursday. To overcome this issue, the team at NASA designed a deep sleep mode which shut down almost everything on Opportunity, including the heater.
Reuters A self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, using a combination of multiple frames taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam) is seen on Mars in 2014.
"This is a hard day", said project manager John Callas.
Steve Squyres, the Cornell University planetary scientist who was principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers, divided Opportunity's mission into two parts.
And NASA's InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars in November with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings.
Nasa had even put together a special space-and-Mars-themed playlist to try and wake Opportunity up again.
"I can not think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley", Michael Watkins, director of JPL, said in a statement on Wednesday.